Friday, March 12, 2010

Comparative Paper: Are Mormons Christian? A Comparison of Essential Doctrines Between the Latter-day Saints and Catholics

I'm taking a short intermission from posting because school has started up again since the Olympics ended (although the Paralympics have begun). This post is a paper I wrote for my western religions class. I'm not going to bother adding hyperlinks in the paper part of it because the sources are all listed at the end.

So, just a note: I realize there's a lot of fractures in my discussion. I had a difficult time consolidating information and staying away from deep doctrines. When I talked to my older brother about the paper topic, he asked if I was going to write something in there about polygamy. While this was a doctrine in the early years of the Church, as I told him, the point of this paper wasn't to discuss the "absurdities of Mormonism," (Farkas & Reed, see sources) as some have put it, or the controversies. Again, while I've no doubt it would interesting, this is not a paper on controversies.

Also, ignore the formatting issues, I don't feel compelled to fix it up. Oh yeah, and it's absurdly long.

And aside from all that, enjoy, and let me know what you think.

In Christendom, there are an overwhelming number of individual churches, almost all of which branch from early Christianity. After the martyrdom of Jesus Christ, it becomes difficult to trace what happens, not necessarily to Christ’s disciples, but to the church that Jesus Christ organized while he yet lived. Most of present-day Christian churches have their origins from the Ecumenical councils called by the Roman emperor Constantine (most of which were organized after the Great Schism). There are however, a few denominations within Christianity which claim some form of restoration, like Protestantism, but there appears to only be one which claims to be a full restoration of Christ’s early church. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (hereafter referred to as the LDS), commonly called Mormons, has its roots in New York where founder Joseph Smith asserts his visitation by God and Jesus Christ, and the eventual re-establishment, or restoration of Christ’s early church (Nelson 3, 17-18). The purpose of this paper is not to examine the validity of the LDS church, but to determine the major doctrines which set it apart from what are currently the accepted doctrines of Catholicism (as Catholicism and Mormonism are the second and third largest branches of Christianity, respectively)(Pew) and most non-denominational Christian faiths.

Seemingly vital to any Christian faith or religion is the belief that the Bible is the word of God, the men leading you have some kind of authority to do so (sic not just men with good ideas), and that God has revealed Himself through scriptures and His prophets and is somehow guiding the affairs of men. Catholics and the rest of Christendom accept the Bible to be the word of God, some believe in its inerrancy (Gerstner), and others take it literally. Catholicism holds that scriptures are documents received from God, and are the property of their church, although only appointed teachers may officially instruct from them (Maas). LDS have declared that they “believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly” (Articles of Faith 1:8). Those of the LDS faith not only utilize their Bibles as scripture, but believe in a very open canon and a constant and continuing flow of revelation from God, both on a personal and on a church-wide level (Church of Jesus Christ 128-129); these doctrines carry back to the days when the church was organized in 1930 [edit: 1830]. LDS believe that God will answer their prayers, and directs their church through men (sic prophets) who have received Christ’s priesthood (Nelson 15-16), which is authority given to man to act in the name of God (Ballard 39). Not only this, but LDS claim additional scripture to the Bible, known as the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price (Bushman, 44-45). These are three major distinctions between the LDS and the Catholics. Put into perspective, and with no disrespect, one might venture to say that the LDS one has the opportunity to be a progressive faith, whereas the Catholic one is a relatively static faith. Although the Bible states that “Jesus Christ [is] the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever” (Hebrews 13:8), mankind is constantly changing and needing, in layman’s terms, advice from God as they, and as the world continually changes.

Despite the changes facing mankind, what defines a Christian is based on the doctrines established by the early Ecumenical councils, something which has not seen much change. One such doctrine established involves the godhead, or the relationship between God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost. Catholics and some traditional Christians hold that these three members of the godhead are three individuals, who are of one substance (Joyce). What this means, in an overly simplistic explanation, is that although they are distinct from each other, they are indeed one in the same and that God is the Holy Spirit, and is Christ. This doctrine also supports the accepted doctrine that Mary is not just the mother of Christ, but through extension of the Trinity, is also the mother of God. There are two examples in scripture used to establish the doctrine of the Trinity, the first is used to establish the divinity of Christ and their “oneness,” and the second is used to show that Christ is on the same level, and is indeed also God.

2 Corinthians 13:13 (2 Cor. 13:14 in the King James Bible follows)

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the charity of God and the communication of the Holy Ghost be with you all. Amen

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen.

This scripture is used to illustrate the divinity of Christ, being mentioned in the same sentence with God and the Holy Ghost, as well as the idea of their being three distinct persons. Additionally, in Psalms, another scripture is used to illustrate that when David praised the Lord, he was doing so in such a way that was reserved for God alone.

Psalms 104:31

May the glory of the Lord endure for ever: the Lord shall rejoice in his works.

The glory of the Lord shall endure for ever: the Lord shall rejoice in his works.

It is widely accepted by Catholicism and most of Christendom that the godhead is three persons in one being, that the Trinitarian God does not have a body, that Christ has a physical body, and is the Son of God (and is the second member of the Trinity), and that the Holy Spirit is also God, as well as the third member of the Trinity.

The LDS on the other hand, view the godhead as having three individual and distinct members who play different roles (Talmage 8, 31-33). In this version of the godhead, God is the Heavenly Father of all the spirits of mankind, who has a physical body. Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world but is not only the Son of God; he is God’s first spiritual and literal child. The Holy Spirit is the third member of this godhead, much like within the Trinitarian godhead, but is separate from God and Christ, is a “personage of spirit” (D&C 133:22) and also ministers to men in place of Christ.

Doctrine and Covenants 93:21

And now, verily I say unto you, I was in the beginning with the Father, and am

the Firstborn;

This scripture illustrates the LDS doctrine that not only is Christ the Son of God, but also that mankind existed in a spiritual state prior to being born on Earth known as the pre-existence (which will be discussed later). The following scriptures are explanations of the Holy Spirit, the first from Christ, explaining that his disciples will be given guidance after he left (sic was crucified), and the second demonstrates that although the Holy Ghost as an individual can only be in one place at a time, his influence can be everywhere at the same time:

John 14:26

But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my

name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance,

whatsoever I have said unto you.

Moses 5:14

And the Lord God called upon men by the Holy Ghost everywhere and

commanded them that they should repent;

With regard to Mary, LDS believe she was an honourable and chosen woman, and that she was the mother of Christ (Talmage 77-79). They do not accept the doctrine of Immaculate Conception or that Mary remained a virgin after the birth of Christ. The latter doctrine is evidenced by the following scripture:

Matthew 1:25

And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.

As is understood, and as a brief look at a dictionary will show, the archaic and Biblical understanding and definition of the term “to know,” is to have sexual intercourse. Therefore, this scripture teaches that Joseph did not just stay in a celibate relationship with his wife, but consummated their marriage sometime after the birth of Christ.

It is difficult to fully grasp the concept of the Trinity because God is typically viewed as unknowable and incomprehensible (Joyce). Scriptures have been searched a great deal in order to support the notion of the Trinity because the alternative is not possible; the Trinity needs scriptural basis because Catholicism denies the doctrine of continued revelation, or the idea that God still speaks to man, as well as that of an open canon. While both Catholicism and the LDS share the similar dogma that Christ is the Son of God, there are severe differences in the relationships between the three persons, the roles they play, and the relationship between God, Christ and Mary.

As mentioned earlier, there are several beliefs held by LDS about a pre-existence which is not shared by Catholics, let alone by the rest of Christendom. It may very well be safe to say that unless one has had exposure to this particular LDS belief, one may never have heard of it before. Although in the Catholic faith the only eternal entities are God and Christ (Joyce), the LDS belief is that all members of the human race are children of God, and that before being born on Earth, they lived with God in a state known as the pre-existence (sic pre-Earth life) (Talmage 7, Ballard 70-73). In this state, mankind was presented with a plan in which they would go to Earth with no memories of their pre-life to be tested. This test involved sin, which would separate mankind from ever returning to God post-Earth life, so a Mediator was needed. Christ then, during this council offered to be such a Savior, while Lucifer (who is explained as being Christ’s brother because all of mankind are spirit-children of God) desired only the power of God, and in return would force all mankind to choose to be righteous (Talmage 7-10). God cast Lucifer from heaven and he became Satan, who has only the goal to make mankind miserable (Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 2:27).

This doctrine leads directly into the next, which is in regard to the Fall of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. In Catholicism, the Fall is a mar on humanity, an event for all mankind to be utterly ashamed of. In this view, Eve yields to temptation, breaks God’s commandment to not eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and then seduces Adam into eating the fruit as well (Driscoll). In this, the doctrine of Original Sin has its roots. According to Catholicism, because Adam and Eve disobeyed God, every human being ever born has inherited that sin and has been damned to never be able to return to heaven because of it (although this is where Christ and sacraments step in) (Driscoll).

The LDS view of the Fall is quite different and is viewed as a blessing instead of a shame. The view held by LDS is considerably clearer because of their open canon:

Genesis 2: 16-17

And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou

mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

Pearl of Great Price, Moses 2:28

Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it, and have dominion

over... every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

Using these scriptures, LDS illustrate that God gave two commandments to Adam and Eve, to replenish the earth and have children, and to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It is reasoned that since they had yet to partake of the fruit, Adam and Eve did not know good, and not knowing good, they knew no evil; the logic being that without experiencing joy, one cannot experience sorrow, so it is with good and evil. These two commandments were contradictory in nature because if they stayed in the Garden of Eden and not eaten the fruit, then they would not have been able to have children. The greater of these two commandments was the latter one, which expected they have children and subdue the earth. Although Adam and Eve were removed from the presence of God, they were then able to experience joy and pain, good and evil, and were able to have children (since they were the equivalent of children when they were in the Garden). Another LDS scripture further supports the LDS doctrine of viewing the Fall as a blessing, as well as illustrates Eve’s view on their decision:

Pearl of Great Price, Moses 5:11

Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed [children], and

never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the

eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient”.

Catholic doctrines of the Fall and Original Sin are two which are basically embraced by most of Christendom, difficult as it is to find scriptures to back the concept of inherited sin. But having an open canon, the doctrine of continued revelation from God, and the authority of God for men to act in His name allow members of the LDS faith to experience a dynamic relationship with the stories in the scriptures, as well as with their Savior and God. This is not meant to detract from any relationship experienced between Catholics and their God, but with room for interpretation and clarification from heaven (as through the doctrine of continued revelation), LDS experience a much more progressive religion.

What seems often to be said about the LDS is that they do not believe in the same Christ who the rest of Christendom believes in (Farkas & Reed 24, 39-41).Their antagonists have apparently not had the opportunity to read the following quote by LDS founder, Joseph Smith: "The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it." Despite the fact that LDS fail to conform to the “norm” of Christianity, they are by all accounts, Christians nonetheless. This author argues that what is needed is a broader definition of what it means to be Christian; just because a faith does not accept all the tenets of the norm does not make them un-Christian, especially considering what Christ preached seemed vastly different from what was accepted during his ministry. For Catholics and the like who worship an individual believed to be able to redeem all of mankind, there sure are a lot of restrictions on what it means to be a Christian. But then again, if the rest of Christianity refuses to accept members of the LDS faith, at least they feel accepted by an individual with more authority than the mobs of the norm.

Ballard, M. Russell. Our Search for Happiness. Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1993.

Bushman, Richard Lyman. Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005.

Driscoll, James F. "Eve." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 5. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909.

12 Mar. 2010

Farkas, John R., and Reed David A.. Mormonism: Changes, Contradictions and Errors. Grand Rapids,

Michigan: Baker Books, 1995.

Gerstner, John H.. "Biblical Inerrancy". The Highway Ministry. March 11, 2010>.

Joyce, George. "The Blessed Trinity." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 15. New York: Robert Appleton

Company, 1912. 11 Mar. 2010 .

Kohut, Andrew. "American's Struggle with Religion's Role at Home and Abroad". The Pew Research

Center for the People and the Press. March 11, 2010.

Maas, Anthony. "Scripture." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 13. New York: Robert Appleton Company,

1912. 12 Mar. 2010

Nelson, Lee. A Prophet's Journal. Mapleton, Utah: Council Press, 1979.

Talmage, James E.. Jesus the Christ. American Fork, Utah: Covenant Communications, Inc., 2006.

1 comment:

Tim said...

You did a good job highlighting the differences between the LDS church and other Christian sects objectively. The article is concise; it must have been hard not to argue against the preconceptions people have about the doctrines.
I like the comparison between 'static' belief systems vs a revelatory/progressive belief. There are churches that are changing their worship services (and/or doctrines?) to increase their attendance. The moral complexities of being a 'progressive' church would be an interesting study; maybe a future post when you're done your intermission?